As of yesterday, Nikola Motors announced the performance specs and preorders for its new hybrid electric long-haul truck. It’s a ridiculously awesome design — one that boasts across the board superior performance when compared to internal combustion engine based trucks that are currently available. The company producing this amazing feat of electrical hybrid vehicle engineering calls its new vehicle the Nikola One. But we’re going to have some fun at the expense of climate change deniers and electric vehicle detractors both here and call this thing Al Gore’s Revenge.
(Nikola One aka Al Gore’s Revenge. It’s big, it’s red, it’s mean, it’s electric — and it’s about to eat internal combustion engine based trucking market share for lunch. Image source: Nikola Motor Company.)
If there’s ever been a name that climate change deniers tried to turn into a nasty joke, it’s Al Gore. Back in the late 1990s, Al Gore displayed amazing foresight and did the prescient, responsible thing by working to incentivize a transition to electrical vehicles. He rightfully attacked internal combustion engines for the inefficient, wasteful and fossil-fuel dependent beasts that they were. Calling them infernal internals, he was probably the first person of political standing to make the apt link, in reference, between climate change and hell on Earth.
For his good deeds and for his speaking truth to the political and economic powers of the day, Gore was largely demonized in the fossil fuels industry supported republican media. Pretty much anyone who defended Al Gore was attacked. And, for a while, despite a glaringly huge and growing scientific consensus, climate change deniers pretended that the notion of human caused climate change itself was the sole mental invention of this sensitive and thoughtful man.
Now, though, the joke is on the climate change deniers and on the fossil fuel industries, like Peabody Coal, who paid to support their demonization of climate leaders. For now even the fossil fuel haven that was long haul trucking is starting to fall due to the superior physical performance potentials of electric engines.
Al Gore’s Revenge — Electric Engines Aren’t Just Cleaner, They’re Better
Nikola One is an 18 wheel long haul trucking rig. Powered by an electric turbine engine, its 320 kwh battery pack is capable of propelling the vehicle, without the aid of any additional tanked fuel source, more than 190 miles. Tanked fuel then lengthens the legs of the more efficient electrical turbine giving it an ultimate total systems range of 1,200 miles. By comparison, an ICE-powered standard truck typically boasts a range of just 500 miles. As a result, the combined fuel efficiency of this massive rig is between 10 and 15 miles per gallon. This is 2-3 times the fuel efficiency rating of standard long haul trucks and about the fuel efficiency average of a relatively long-legged 1990s SUV.
An electrical vehicle powered by a battery that is capable of recharging either through regenerative breaking or a wall socket, the Nikola One is already capable of achieving a zero emissions ride. But that’s if truckers are willing to stop every 190 miles for a recharge or to put net zero carbon biofuels into its ‘agnostic’ fuel tank. In all likelihood, most rigs will be refueled for some time by compressed natural gas stations on many long haul routes. A combination that implies about a 75 percent reduction in carbon emissions during driving. However, the ability to place 190 miles worth of all electric range on a long haul truck now, means that battery technology needs to only see prices fall by another 60 percent in order for ICE comparable ranges to be achieved by an all-electric truck with a weight similar to the Nikola One (see more below).
But the superior performance specs don’t end at range, fuel efficiency, and reduced emissions. This vehicle boasts 2,000 horsepower (regular ICE trucks only have 500 horsepower), the ability to travel up hill at 65 miles per hour (ICEs really lag going up hill and can only do 20-40 mph on an incline) and to regenerate electricity from breaking while going downhill (ICEs regenerate nada). The Nikola One can accelerate from 0 to 60 in 30 seconds, or half the time it takes for a comparable ICE to make the mark. And the Nikola One saves weight — coming in at 2,000 pounds less than a typical ICE truck (one wonders what the all electric range would be if the 2,000 pound weight difference was instead used to add more batteries — possibly near 350 miles). In other words, the Nikola One is expected by be 10 percent leaner and a whole lot meaner than the fossil fuel combustion engine trucks that have dominated the roads for nearly a Century.
(Side view of Nikola One. Nikola One boasts a 320 kw chargeable battery pack and a fuels agnostic ‘gas’ tank that can run on compressed natural gas, petroleum, diesel, or biofuels like ethanol or biodeisel. The truck can make a 190 mile range on all electric power and is capable of net zero carbon emissions travel in its full 1,200 mile range if the appropriate biofuel is used in its tank. The Nikola One is, therefore, more similar to the Chevy Volt than it is to the Tesla Model S. However, it represents a massive leap forward in sustainable trucking design. Image source: Nikola Motors.)
All of these amazing capabilities have generated a notable amount of excitement. And, in total, more than 7,000 preorders for these beasts have been logged so far. A value of 2.3 billion dollars for the emerging electric vehicle trucking company. Nicola’s CEO noted in a press release yesterday:
“Our technology is 10-15 years ahead of any other OEM in fuel efficiencies, MPG and emissions. We are the only OEM to have a near zero emission truck and still outperform diesel trucks running at 80,000 pounds. To have over 7,000 reservations totaling more than 2.3 billion dollars, with five months remaining until our unveiling ceremony, is unprecedented.”
The technology that allows Nikola One to achieve these weight saving and performance results centers around an electrical turbine engine and lithium based battery pack. The electrical engine is in itself about twice as efficient as an ICE. The battery pack allows for 190 miles of additional electrical range per charge and for the recuperation of electrical energy from regenerative breaking and from the action of the electrical engine itself. The result is a total system that possesses more power, weighs less, and is overall 2-3 times as efficient as an internal combustion based design. Though this system does use a fuel thank (which can be filled with CNG, petroleum, diesel or biofuel) to extend the base electrical range, it represents a huge leap forward in the sustainability of long haul trucking. And looking at the base numbers for weight and electric battery potential, it would be surprising if we did not see a number of 350 to 500 mile all electric truck ranges start to emerge in the time period between now and 2020.
(If we’re going to tackle climate change, we need to address both long haul trucking and aircraft based fossil fuel emissions. Hybrid electric turbine technology like that used in Nikola One can also be used in jet aircraft. It’s a form of technology that both promises to make energy use more efficient and to provide a path to zero carbon emissions from these modes of transportation. In January, NASA performed an aircraft electric turbine demonstration that was capable of greatly reducing carbon emissions from air travel. Image source: NASA.)
Nikola One costs 375,000 dollars, which is about twice the price of a traditional long haul truck. However, the company notes that fuel costs for the vehicle are halved. Since fuel costs are a major primary expense for truckers and shipping companies, Nikola One’s added energy efficiency is expected to be very appealing to the current market. Superior performance will give the truck a time of travel edge over traditional vehicles along hilly routes or in areas where stop and go traffic is an issue. The company also plans to lease the trucks for $5,000 dollars a month and states that this offering a better value than a traditional ICE truck when accounting for the costs of fuel.
If Nikola is able to make good on its performance and cost promises for this truck, then one of the last bastions of fossil fuel dominance appears to be falling. Long haul trucking has long represented a sustainability challenge due to the high weight, long range, and high horsepower requirement of the industry. It was long thought that the energy density of fossil fuels would represent an impenetrable barrier to renewable energy systems in this market. But detractors apparently didn’t take into account the basic fact that Al Gore was right — the internal combustion engine is a laggard. And superior electrical engine performance now provides an avenue for renewable energy systems to begin to compete with fossil fuels in the long haul trucking arena. And one final note is that the hybrid turbine based electrical engine design used by Nikola may also provide a useful sustainability innovation for air travel — which also relies on turbines for jet propulsion (see NASA link below).
Al Gore’s Revenge indeed.
Hat Tip to Greg
Hat Tip to Colorado Bob